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Spanish-language theater group brings virtual play to The Beach

Published September 15, 2020

Little did Mónica Herrera know that what started out as a research paper about atrocities in Mexico would eventually lead to her bringing a virtual play to Cal State Long Beach. 

Herrera's father inspired her to pursue the research project — studying the unsolved killings of more than 350 women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — but he unexpectedly died before it was finished. Her family lived just a few hours away from the northern Mexican city.

“I was completely devastated because my father was the person who raised me. He was my best friend,” said Herrera, a master’s student in Spanish. “I even considered quitting the master’s program.”

After her father's passing, she submerged herself in her studies. Through her research, she learned about the play “Mujeres de Arena,” written by Mexican playwright Humberto Robles, about the feminicides that she was studying. 

One night on a whim, she decided to email the playwright. 

“He answered my email two days later and I was speechless,” she said. “He said he was willing to help me and offered me the rights to the play because his goal is to help educate people on what’s happening in Ciudad Juárez.” 

Herrera and Teatro al Sur, Cal State Long Beach's Spanish-language theater group, have brought "Mujeres de Arena" to The Beach to increase awareness about the feminicides in Ciudad Juarez. The play is part of the university’s recognition of  Latinx Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Dr. Alicia del Campo, a Spanish professor and director of Teatro al Sur, saw Herrera’s enthusiasm for the play and agreed to put it into production. 

Once COVID-19 hit, Teatro al Sur persevered and began transforming “Mujeres de Arena” into a virtual play. It was a challenge, but it helped keep the spirit of unity and creativity in the students over summer, del Campo said. 

“It became our peaceful moment,” she said. “We met once a week and had movement and meditation sessions, had Zoom meetings with the playwright and started reading through the play. It was a healing process over the summer.” 

The theater group uses creative techniques to replicate an on-stage play through Zoom. Each student makes their own background using photos of the victims, they do their own hair, makeup and costume changes, and figure out where to position their cameras and how far away to stand from them. 

One of the defining factors of theater is that it’s live, and the students needed a venue to express their creativity,” del Campo said. “I keep telling students we’re doing the cutting-edge thing! We are experimenting with things professional theater groups are grappling with today. 

The play, which is a collaborative effort to raise awareness about the feminicides, features actors Mónica Herrera, Leydi Ahumada, Mónica Chacón, Lidia Grajeda, María Juárez, Alfa López, Reyna Luis, Andrea Moreno Lara, Silvia Romero, Shaidy Ruiz and Francisco Soto. 

“This play was written for all the mothers of the victims who were killed,” Herrera said. “I think it’s important to bring awareness to this because I lived in Mexico not far from Ciudad Juarez and I watch the news every day and I didn’t know anything about the feminicides.” 

“Mujeres de Arena” comprises 10 scenes built around four monologues by women impacted by the feminicides. Violence toward women in the northern Mexico town began rapidly increasing in 1993, but the cases of more than 400 missing women and 350 murdered women were left unsolved.

The play also highlights the sexist and economic issues surrounding the murders of the women, who came to Ciudad Juarez to work in factories so they can send money home to their families. 

Teatro al Sur will perform the play in Spanish from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19. The play, which will be presented on Zoom, is sponsored by Teatro al Sur, Latin American Studies, RGRLL, the Spanish Graduate Students Association and the Spanish Club. 

Zoom link: https://csulb.zoom.us/j/96672975409